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Four-star Marine officer takes U.S. command in Afghanistan

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
February 11th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Given the duty of ending America's longest war as insurgents continue to challenge the U.S.-backed government, General Joseph F. Dunford Jr. took over as the newest -- and probably last U.S. commander in Afghanistan.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Dunford, a four-star Marine officer, has arrived on the scene as the U.S.-led NATO coalition has dismantled three-quarters of its 800 bases. He will be responsible to decide whether the Afghan security forces U.S. forces have trained can keep the Taliban insurgency at bay.

The 19-month tenure of Gen. John R. Allen closed with a quiet ceremony. Allen's command was marred by a rash of deadly "insider" attacks by Afghan forces against U.S. and NATO trainers. There were also strained relations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Allen, in an emotional speech pointed to significant progress, including the growth of the Afghan security forces, an increase in Afghan-led military operations, a sharp reduction in civilian casualties and the withdrawal of about 35,000 U.S. troops.

"This is victory," Allen said. "This is what winning looks like, and we should not shrink from using those words."

He was cleared of wrongdoing last month in a Pentagon inquiry into emails he exchanged with a woman who was linked to the sex scandal that forced the resignation of CIA director David Petraeus. He has since been nominated to lead NATO forces in Europe.

With Dunford, a respected but non-flashy assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, President Obama hopes to repair ties with Karzai and cement a long-term security deal that could see several thousand U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan beyond the withdrawal of combat forces next year.

Dunford stressed continuity in the mission. "What's not changed is the will of this coalition," Dunford said. "What's not changed is the growing capability of our Afghan partners."

Obama is expected to spell out plans for the troop withdrawal and a post-2014 U.S. military presence in Afghanistan as early as his State of the Union message this week. Pentagon officials are calling for a residual force that would focus on counterterrorism and supporting Afghan forces.

About 65,000 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan, down from a high of 100,000. U.S. public support for the war has been on a perpetual downswing. Military commanders warn that removing the remaining troops could cause Afghan security forces to collapse.

Dunford has offered no prescriptions for troop levels but cautioned against withdrawing too quickly, saying it could destabilize the region.

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